Originally created 03/25/01

Group revisits Wild West



JACKSON, S.C. - It is high noon, of course, and something's brewing at the ranch.

David Scott, clad in cowhide and canvas - and bulging with belts of ammo - pauses to shake a visitor's hand.

"Howdy," he smiles. "I'm Surly Dave!"

Surly Dave?

"Yep," he grinned, rolling his handlebar moustache. "As in bad-tempered, sullen, rude, hostile and downright uncivil."

Actually, Surly Dave is at least as civil as his fellow gunslingers who gather monthly to play cowboy and test their mettle with single-action arms of the Old West.

"It's a fantasy game," he said, patting a pair of .45 revolvers rigged with custom birdhead grips. "The costume is as much a part as the shooting."

The group is called the Savannah River Rangers - a local chapter of a 30,000-strong international organization called the Single Action Shooting Society.

"First off, you have to have a name," said Bill Lage of Grovetown, whose official shootin' name is the Wyandotte Kid - derived from a county in Kansas.

"You have to have a name to register and compete," he said. "But the shooting, the competing and the fellowship are a lot of fun."

The Wyandotte Kid's silver Mario Garcia spurs, by the way, were a topic of envy among almost everyone.

"Yeah, you can sink more money into costumes than guns," he said. "This is probably the only group of men in the world who sit around gabbing about clothes."

But there is plenty to discuss. There is talk of posses, stagecoach robberies, jail breaks and saloons. The smell of cigar smoke lingers in the air, and there is gunfire - lots of gunfire.

"If you shoot two-handed, you're a traditional shooter," Lage joked. "If you shoot one-handed, you're a man."

The members compete in timed stages, during which competitors fire revolvers at steel targets while moving from place to place. Each station also includes shooting a single-action rifle and a shotgun.

Weapon requirements are simple: nothing made after 1900. Replicas are OK, as long as they are old-style, single-action guns. The side-by-side 12 gauges are the famed "coach guns" that spawned the phrase "riding shotgun."

"People get pretty imaginative," said Chris "Wildcat Will" Gelfant of Aiken, whose his favorite sidearms are a pair of pearl-handled Ruger Blackhawks. "We're re-living our childhood again."

The society has hundreds of shooting clubs all over the globe - even in Japan, Australia and in Europe, said Barney "Wil D Bunch" Bost, whose single-action arsenal includes 11 pistols.

Safety is a primary concern, and everyone must wear shooting and eye protection, said "Reno Joe" Ayres, whose Jackson property is home to the monthly shootouts.

Weapons are carefully examined and loaded at the "loading table" before each competitor shoots. Afterward|, the weapons are examined at the exit table to insure they are empty.

Women and youngsters compete too, as does Ayres wife' "Calcutta Katie" Ayres.

"Anytime you get a bunch of guys like this together, it's competitive," Reno Joe Ayres said. "But the main focus is just to have fun!"

Anyone interested in attending a shoot or joining the group can contact Ayres at (803) 827-3753.